PGA Tour Confidential: The Zurich Classic

PGA Tour Confidential: The Zurich Classic

John Daly sold merchandise outside the gates of Augusta National during the Masters. He returns to competition this week in Spain.
Darron Cummings/AP

Every week of the 2009 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Lots to chew on this week, including the first PGA Tour win by Jerry Kelly since 2002, a remarkable shootout in Mexico between LPGA titans Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Pettersen (that nobody saw) and the imminent return (again) of John Daly, minus 40 pounds or so. What does everybody expect from Long John in Spain this week? A win? A top 30? A made cut? A WD? A DQ? Is the erstwhile big man ever going to be a factor on the PGA Tour again?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: A successful week for Daly means not getting arrested, suspended, subpoenaed, punched-out, passed-out or otherwise making a further embarrassment of himself. Who cares how he plays?

Hack: Joe PGA Tour fan seems to. Other than Tiger and Phil, is there a more popular player on the PGA Tour?

Jim Herre, editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: Just so you know, Daly is Twittering.

Shipnuck: I can only imagine: “A dozen Twinkies for breakfast…Yum…Two pack of Ho-Hos at the turn, feeling frisky. Maybe tonight I can find the next ex-Mrs. Daly at Hooters.”

David Dusek, deputy editor, I love that Daly write his Tweets the way he talks: “wow am i beat today just exhausted” and “done with practice n packin for europe–i do not want to fly”

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: By his own admission, Big John has always been a streaky player. I hope that he can at least return to respectability as a professional, minus the tantrums and the drinking. He can WD or win next week. It’s up to him.

Shipnuck: I think Daly has lost a lot of fans and goodwill in recent years. When he was winning tournaments he was an original. Now it’s just sad.

Herre: Daly can’t chow down with that belly band. He’s actually looking pretty good.

Shipnuck: Somehow I bet he’ll find a way to put the weight back on. He’s got a can-do attitude when it comes to his vices.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Yes, but there’s something about eating only what you kill that makes a guy play better. Todd Hamilton is in the last year of his British Open exemption, and suddenly he’s on the leaderboard again. Is that a happy coincidence? It’s conceivable that desperation will help Daly’s game, too.

Hack: I think Big John has another run in him. Seems like it was just yesterday when he was knocking heads with Tiger in San Francisco at Harding Park. One of the best non-major events I’ve ever seen.

Morfit: If Daly would start playing well again, people would come back on the bandwagon with their Marlboros and Diet Cokes in a heartbeat. He’s “relatable” and all that.

Dusek: Uh oh. Daly is onto us. He just Tweeted: “1 thing? can anyone tell me that site that posts the constant update when my name is mentioned on twitter? twzd? something”

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ve been mocked for saying this before, but I’ll say it again: as a pure, natural golfing talent, JD’s the best I’ve ever seen in person. He is a golf savant.

Shipnuck: Jerry Kelly is one of the good guys and this will be a popular win in the locker room, press room and caddie yard. But to me the real story is Charles Howell letting a tournament get away for the third time this year. I think he’s too nice a guy for tournament golf. I hope he’s somewhere trashing a hotel room. If you do it once it means you care. If you do it monthly, it means you’re Daly.

Bamberger: I don’t think the problem is that he’s too nice — I think his desire to win is fierce — but he’s got so much going on in that head. What makes him great for us (as writers) might be hurting him as he gets closer to the hole and there are more and more shot options.

Morfit: The thing that struck me about Kelly’s win was how much of the Tour is a mind game. It’s painful to watch Charles Howell try to close out a tournament. He’s obviously very talented, and a nice guy, but man, something is way off between the ears. That par putt on 17 was pitiful, and the birdie effort on 18 was only slightly better. The only time that guy looked like a serious player was when he beat Phil at Riviera a few years back.

Hack: I like how the CBS crew questioned some of Howell’s strategy coming home (laying up and relying on a shaky short game). Some good back and forth there between Faldo and McCord.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Choke of the week to Ian Baker Finch for patting Howell on the back for his great shots down the stretch. Uh, Ian, what great shots? With a bogey at 15, a three-jack bogey at 17 and a pedestrian par at the cupcake 18th, Howell further cemented his reputation as golf’s richest choker. Why can’t golf announcers, save Johnny Miller, just speak the truth?

Herre: Howell played lights out on the front, then you could see him start playing defense on the back, when he needed to stay on the attack. He did play great — for nine holes.

Dusek: His team, headed by GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher Todd Anderson, needs to convince him to put the hammer down when he’s in the lead. Maybe he should talk to Brian Gay?

Morfit: He needs to see GOLF Magazine’s resident mind-game guy, Dr. Dick Coop.

Hack: I do think that Charles will keep knocking on the door. He played great in Tampa this year, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t quite have the trust on those little feel shots (and the flatstick) that make all the difference late Sundays.

Dick Friedman, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: How do you learn how to close?

Lipsey: Grow up in the caddie yard and barrio, like Cabrera, or the son of a soldier, like Tiger.

Shipnuck: Experience helps, but I think you either have that killer instinct or you don’t, and all the long walks in the woods with Bob Rotella won’t do much good.

Lipsey: Talent doesn’t make a champion. Needing it does. Growing up with money isn’t an automatic disqualifier, but it’s a hurdle to overcome. Howell, the son of a successful doctor, has all the talent but apparently not much need.

Hack: Are you saying you don’t think Charles is hungry enough? I respectfully disagree. If anything, he’s been overdoing it, trying to figure out his game. The guy works out, beats a million balls, and works hard. I don’t think the fact that his dad is a surgeon has anything to do with flying a 90-yard wedge shot over the green.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Hack. Charles has the hunger. He just doesn’t have the wedge game and the putter under pressure yet.

Bamberger: Belief’s important. Technique’s more important. Gift is more important yet. The great putters, from Billy Casper to Johnny Miller to Tiger Woods, were great putters from the time they took up the game.

Hack: I chatted with Chaz in L.A. while he was still fighting and searching, and his mood was pretty dark. The guy is hungry. He’s built himself up from a thin college frame, and he’s working his tail off. I think Rick is underestimating how much he wants it AND needs it. You don’t have to grow up in a caddie yard to be a competitive guy. Just because Charles is approachable and talks to the press doesn’t mean he isn’t burning inside.

Van Sickle: There are two types of players on tour. Those who are tremendous ballstrikers but average around the greens — Rocco, Howell, most of the Aussies. When they finally have a hot week with the putter, they win. And there are the guys who scrape it around but hole putts and get up and down from anywhere — Kelly, Faxon, Crenshaw, Loren Roberts. When they have a good ballstriking week, they win. Howell doesn’t lack a killer instinct; he lacks the kind of scoring game of Azinger and Kelly and others. How many putts on the back nine did Howell leave short? It’s short game, short game, short game.

Herre: I liked CBS’s bonus coverage of the Legends, particularly that awkward chest bump/high five/whatever by Langer and Lehman. Still think the Legends is the best week in senior golf.

Lipsey: And the Univ. of Hawaii has the best ice hockey team in the South Pacific division.

Morfit: I’m happy to see Lehman win in his old-guy tour debut. He’s truly one of the good guys. (Translation: He happily talks to the press.)

Van Sickle: Kelly proved once again that it’s not about your tee-to-green game, it’s about scoring. He wasn’t in the top 125 in greens in regulation or fairways hit, yet he was 12th in scoring. That’s impossible. Just like him playing awful on the front nine today, then pulling it out with clutch play on the back while others messed up around the greens.

Bamberger: That’s right, Gary, and it’s not just Kelly this week in New Orleans: it’s about half or more of Tiger’s wins, all of Seve’s, many of Phil’s, all of Arnold’s, etc. The Faldos and the Nicklauses and the Hogans are the exception. You win scrambling and getting in the hole as much as anything else.

Dusek: Every time I see Kelly, I can’t help but remember him walking into MetLife’s hospitality tent at the 17th green at Pebble Beach in 2006. He was playing the AT&T, and it was an awful day (rainy, windy, cold). There was a huge backup on the 18th tee, so Kelly walks into the suite and starts chowing on crab cakes. He ate about five or six with his caddie, broke a huge fart, laughed out loud and walked out. The whole place emptied out and he just stood outside laughing.

Shipnuck: My favorite memory of Kelly is from the Open at Oakmont. I had followed Cabrera into the clubhouse to watch the finish on TV and Kelly came roaring in and put Pato in a headlock. They wrestled for a few minutes like a couple of schoolkids. It was hilarious.

Morfit: He is a champion eater. I watched him polish off about 20 grilled oysters at the New Orleans tournament about five years ago. (I could only hang with him for about seven or eight.)

Hack: I’m with you guys on the popularity of Kelly’s win. You have to love a guy who likes to practice putting while listening to his iPod, not to mention his past work on his mental game with the 1976 U.S. Olympic shooting gold medalist, Lanny Bassham.

Van Sickle: It was nice that Kelly’s pal, fellow Cheese curd Steve Stricker, hung around for the finish. I was standing with him at the back of the 18th green while he sweated out the finish. “I’m nervous for him,” Steve told me. After Jerry’s first woeful putt, who wouldn’t be? Stricker was private-jetting home tonight — he’s skipping Wachovia. He thought Jerry was going to go home, too, and hitch a ride with him. On Wisconsin.

Bamberger: At the Masters some years ago, Kelly was on the putting green listening to his iPod. Tom Watson borrowed his head phones and you could hear Waylon Jennings from 50 yards away. Watson said to Kelly, Midwestern redneck to Midwestern redneck, “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Evans: For me Kelly is tough to watch. I imagine blocks and duck hooks when he starts his downswing. With that swing you had better be a fighter. I think Kelly is a better fighter than Howell because he is less gifted. If you think about it, some of the great winners of the 80s — Curtis Strange, Calvin Peete, Lanny Wadkins, Nick Price, Tom Kite — weren’t the most gifted players. The game is so super-sized now that it’s hard to tell who can actually play golf. Kelly is a player from the old school.

Bamberger: I totally agree: with Kelly’s swing, you never know where it’s going to go, left or right. But, to Gary’s point, when his short game’s there, it really doesn’t matter.

Hack: Tough week for the LPGA Tour, I thought. They have two of their best
players battling (Lorena won) and nobody here saw it. Plus, the tour is losing Corning.
Just when you think the LPGA has some momentum after Brittany Lincicome and another great Kraft, it just disappears from the radar screen. Lorena-Suzann battling down the stretch (with Wie and others a bit back) has to be televised. Will this tour ever really matter?

Friedman: The LPGA has an official Facebook page, and the commenters were split between those who were providing updates and those who were roasting the lack of TV coverage.

Herre: I’ve been hearing rumors about Michelob’s commitment to the LPGA.

Shipnuck: Next year the Golf Channel is contractually obligated to televise at least five overseas events, so there will be way fewer dark weeks. But this week was definitely a missed opportunity. Pettersen is one of the best athletes in golf, and she and Ochoa put on an unbelievable show — at least according to

Lipsey: The LPGA is becoming less popular and smaller. Look at the numbers — fewer tournaments, less TV (forget the Golf Channel; that’s the Dark Side of The Moon, as Reilly once called SI’s TV station), less prize money, etc.

Friedman: I think the LPGA can get some buzz, the way there was after Kraft Nabisco, and build on it. It might never be NFL-popular, but it can have its share of heat.

Lipsey: Buzz? The LPGA is usually lucky to get agate type in most news outlets. (I’d have said newspapers, but there ain’t many of those left.)

Shipnuck: Moving to Golf Channel was a risk for the PGA Tour. It will be a godsend to the LPGA.

Bamberger: I agree with Alan: the LPGA is for golfheads, and so is the Golf Channel. Excuse me, Golf Channel.

Shipnuck: I’ve always felt the LPGA would do better with a smaller schedule, ensuring the best players show up to virtually every event. The problem is that the contracted schedule includes fewer events in the U.S.

Hack: Seems like it’s nothing a Michelle Wie victory couldn’t help fix. Golf Channel’s numbers were strong (relatively speaking) when she was in contention in Hawaii. But what happens when Wie wins an event and it’s not shown? That could be instant death for that tour.

Morfit: The LPGA does so little with so much, it’s the Charles Howell III of sports leagues.

Hack: I think the LPGA is just going to have be happy with little pockets of buzz — the Kraft here, the Solheim there, the U.S. Women’s Open. No consistency, no momentum, no visibility.

Lipsey: Despite my barking, I’m still convinced it’s a man-woman thing. Most golfers are men, and they follow men’s sports. A look at our staff says it all.

Hack: True, but I think the general public thinks (incorrectly, of course) that Michelle Wie is the female Tiger Woods (thank you, Nike). If she wins, that story won’t be appearing in the agate.

Friedman: I’m an equal opportunity viewer. I think many (and maybe most) golf fans are.

Lipsey: Ditto, and my wife is a lawyer who defends women in discrimination and harassment cases, so I’m all for the cause. But golf is mostly a man’s world. No clubs have women’s grills.

Anne Szeker, producer, The LPGA has some great, accessible, attractive players — Wie, Creamer, Pressel, Gulbis. I think they just do a really poor job of marketing them. And their big names have been in the mix a lot lately, even Wie. Rick’s right that golf is mostly a man’s game. We’re not exactly welcome in every clubhouse. But that’s a bigger issue, and I don’t think it has much to do with the popularity of the LPGA. Real golf fans are going to watch good golf regardless of gender or age. When things get really good, when Wie gets that first win, the general sports fans will jump on board.

Morfit: SI’s tennis guru Jon Wertheim could tell us more about this, but the women’s tennis circuit was actually more popular than the men’s around 1999-2000. The LPGA ought to copy whatever the WTA was doing then, because the LPGA certainly has the raw ingredients.

Friedman: Williams sisters! The LPGA’s version is Wie.

Dusek: I was at TENNIS magazine during that time, and I can tell you that the WTA Tour’s popularity was a result of a lot of things. Certainly the Williams sisters were a big part of it, but Anna Kournikova was arriving on the scene too. What separates women’s tennis from women’s golf is that the stars in tennis almost always make it deep into the draw at the majors. Upsets are very rare in the early rounds, so when TV viewers finally see the action from Roland Garros, Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, they see players they know. Women’s golf isn’t always that way, so it suffers.

Morfit: It doesn’t seem far off, though. Seems like Paula Creamer is usually around the lead, and Ochoa and the gang are perfectly telegenic. Natalie Gulbis is already more successful than Kournikova was.

Evans: In the 80s, I watched the Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert wars. Over the same period, I watched Pat Bradley, Patty Sheehan, Hollis Stacy and Nancy Lopez on the LPGA. Sad comparison.

Van Sickle: Women’s tennis was more popular mainly because they volleyed and played tennis. The men served 200-mph rockets for aces and hardly volleyed. It was boring. Plus the guys were generally conceited jerks.

Dusek: Women have received equal prize money at the U.S. Open for years (thanks to Billie Jean King). The women’s U.S. Open final is on in prime time and gets good ratings. When those things are happening for the LPGA, we’ll know it has arrived.

Van Sickle: As long as Tiger Woods lives, it’ll be hard for the LPGA to upgrade its profile in this country. I think the LPGA has a chance to be much bigger in other parts of the world, especially Asia. You have to go where the interest and the money are. The LPGA has a much better chance of becoming a successful world tour than it does of becoming a mainstream American sport.

Evans: If Betty Crocker and Procter & Gamble could find enough women shoppers at golf tournaments, they would certainly advertise with the LPGA. The tour should market moms, Oprah and carpools if it wants to attract ad dollars.